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Why Changemaking: Chat with Shriyans, Forbes 30 under 30

I recently got a chance to chat with Shriyans Bhandari, Co-Founder and CEO of Greensole and Director of Heritage Girls School about Social Entrepreneurship and how people can break into this field? Forbes has recognized him recently as Forbes 30 under 30 Asia, 2020.

To get started, can you give an introduction about yourself?

Basically, we’re into upcycling of old shoes into footwear. That is like Greensole. We started a few years back. And now we are refurbishing, about 100,000 pairs per year, which are going to rural kids all over India. We work with various corporates and do the recycling for like footwear brands also. So they didn’t have any other solution before what we have done. We have been around five years on this journey now.

Basically, I am an athlete, and I have a colleague who is also an athlete. We used to throw away a lot of old shoes. So, you know, after a certain age, you can figure out that the shoes are not good enough for running. So they can still be used for some other purposes. We can give it to maid service, but what after that, like there is no fixed process of making use of it.

So that’s where we thought, okay, let’s work on shoes. So, I started thinking about that old pair of shoes and one day came up with a product idea. It was like an upcycled version of an old shoe that can be reused. After that, the journey really started. Like we won some business plan competitions. There also we have to apply, right? What is your business model? What’s the revenue model problem? After writing all those things. We figured, okay, maybe you know, it’s not just our problem. There can be a bigger, bigger, bigger version of it.

Why social entrepreneurship?

So, I run a boarding school in Udaipur for girls. So, I thought I’d always go into entrepreneurship, social entrepreneurship was by chance because you know like I had published a book also. I was thinking about what I can do next. So I by chance came upon this idea.

And then what we did was like we are doing recycling that itself is associated, and we thought who will buy this recycled footwear. Let’s try and donate it. When we researched, we found that so many shoes don’t go to landfills while people don’t have footwear. Because of this thought, it took a social angle. And I think more than the idea the critical part was how we took the next step and you know, stayed at it for five years. That is really the essential part where you make tiny steps or whatever, you know. If you really take those steps, you can go a very long way.

What does social entrepreneurship mean for you?

I think wherever you take responsibility in entrepreneurship for society, you are a social entrepreneur. You know, like we could have done a tea business also. But we took responsibility for people who don’t have footwear. We took this responsibility, plus we tried to solve it at a scale not just ourselves but for others also. And so you’re taking responsibility doing things that fit into a business model.

Why are we seeing so few entrepreneurs with this point of view?

All businesses do help the society, you at least are providing employment. You’re solving a problem. But what happened in social entrepreneurship is like, you look end to end. You look at Okay, you know, can you sustain the people who you have hired and can help them upskill themselves? Can you hire the ones who really need a job or who are like completely underskilled and you skill them. So, I think you take that additional effort which only in profit terms, you know, have a cost attached to like even donating a pair.

It requires like a team which will be Designing it, it will be making them distributing them. That extra effort is there apart from doing business. On one side you’re doing business, but at the same time, you’re extra responsible for the society with every money. Every pair sold, is helping the society multiple ways, not just in jobs. It’s that added responsibility. And if every business does that, it may slightly impact their scale, maybe, but it can have a compounded effect. So like the good in society.

So how can we rectify this situation?

I think, at present, social entrepreneurship not very well known. People think social entrepreneurship is more like an NGO. So when it only becomes apparent that okay, they are for-profit businesses that also can do social goods while being profitable, that people will become interested in them. People ealo ven start accepting the products from, you know, such enterprises which are not really mainstream. But like with every pair, they’re really doing social good. In terms of donating a pair or doing something good for society, and once that thing is clear where people are more motivated, it can really help out.

Yeah, I think further advocacy is required, and more role models are required because we see role models for only for-profit enterprises. The for-profit enterprises have really grown, or the NGO side has really grown. But like for-profit social entrepreneurs, they haven’t reached a massive scale as of now. So it is tougher to reach a level in social enterprise maybe. But if more examples may motivate especially younger people, they will be more inclined towards for profit only. But if they come to know that there is a way in which you can do social good with profitability, they’ll be happy to do it.

What advice you have for people that are looking to break into this field?

As in, you know, everyone’s journey will be very unique. One thing that we’ll pick out is, you know, what idea they come up with is really convincing to go with. Whether it’s your own idea or from somewhere else, I think finding that idea. And the second thing is sticking to it. Taking action on it. We can pivot our business to a completely different concept, but the critical goal remains the same.

Take us, for example, we didn’t own a factory so we just rented a place where some people could make some samples for us. And we focus really on early revenues like there was a company which was a huge company, but they were ready to give the CSR funds to us. You know, we had a working capital at the beginning of our company. We started like that. If you’re doing good work, like one corporate will tell the other. Some other will people will come to know when you are at Ground Zero. It will look complicated, you know, how will you really scale and how will it grow.

When things get started, you know, when you start working, you’re on the ground. Even if you get some revenue, it will really multiply over time if you just stay at it. You know, the stuff looks really unreachable unless you get started now.

But when you start small, start with what we have. Start with you Like we just googled. Okay, we’re in Bombay, where can we make footwear? So there’s a lot of groundwork and hear you know, we need to stay really active. No, there is no spoon-feeding involved. So we just searched Okay, footwear making in Bombay. Okay, let’s go there. Let’s explore, you know, you have to be very active.

Did you have a mentor that helped you?

You will automatically get mentors. Even your workers could be your mentors. When we did not knew anything about the field, people who are making footwear for us mentored is. And we went and saw some factory. Those were our mentors. So when you start a company, you know, maybe you’ll have like 200 mentors. Whoever you’re meeting with, people who designed our logo for us free of cost are our mentors. So the mentors, will come automatically. Your customers can be your mentors.

To know more about the fantastic work done by Greensole, click here.

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